Friday, June 29, 2012

A double dose of palumbus

The walk-in trap is continuing to work well. This afternoon it got a double hit with this pair of Woodpigeons — the female made her way through the tunnel and was almost straight away followed by the male.

The female was a 2cy and the male was a 3+cy in case you were wondering. You weren't? Oh, never mind then.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Raptor watching

There was one less Goldfinch left in the garden this morning but at least this male Sparrowhawk got some breakfast:

And talking of Sparrowhawks (tenuous link), it's a real shame I won't be able to make it out to Georgia this autumn — it looks like the Batumi Bird Festival is going to be great.

For anyone who wants more info on visiting the festival, there's plenty on the BRC website

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pre-rain ringing

I joined David Norman for a few hours ringing this morning before the forecast rain arrived — it looks like the next few days are going to be better for desk-based work rather than being in the field. Ringing was — at least in relation to how it could have been — fairly slow, though we did catch a number of warblers; the best of the lot was this juvenile Grasshopper Warbler:

The bird was still in the final stages of growing its flight feathers, indicating that it won't travelled far from the nest in which it hatched. We also caught several female birds of several species that had active brood-patches, suggesting that breeding is still on-going for individuals.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The final few days

I'm just back from dropping Fabian off at the airport; I should start by saying what a pleasure it has been to have him here and — despite the weather — we've had a great week.

On Saturday we visited a few local sites in the hope of finding a flavissima Yellow Wagtail but we had no luck. Everywhere seems unnervingly quiet this spring for breeding songbirds — for example, many sites that would usually hold multiple Reed and Sedge Warblers seem to have just one or two birds.

We paid a visit to Neumann's Flash where the only bird of any real note was a Black Swan...

Yesterday we headed up to the Peak District where, after dipping them in Wales last week, we managed to find some Red Grouse — a lifer for Fabian. We wandered up onto the moor for a closer look until the heavens opened and we took shelter back in the car.

Once the rain had stopped, we walked along the river valley where we found a ('brown bellied') Dipper, a new subspecies for Fabian and a bird that's always great value to watch as it dips and dives through the rough water.

In the car park, a Lesser Redpoll showed well and a Short-eared Owl passing over was a pleasant surprise.

Back at home we set the walk-in trap in the garden and — after a lengthy period of a Woodpigeon walking round and round the trap, then poking its head into the entrance tunnel and backing out again — success!

We aged the bird as a 3+cy (EURING 6); I'll save the gory details for another day.

In the evening (after a meal of scouse to add some authenticity for Faab's visit), we headed down to Woolston where we put up a few nets. In the short time they were open we caught five birds, including a juvenile Willow Tit. Then we relaxed for the evening before camping overnight.

We started early this morning, opening all the nets; over the morning we caught 48 birds including another juvenile Willow Tit, some juvenile Wrens, Blackcaps, Common Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, and several Bullfinches.

The trap at home continued to catch well this afternoon, admittedly mostly Feral Pigeons but also a female Blackbird, both of 'our' Robins, and a juvenile House Sparrow (quite a scarce bird in our neighbourhood, so nice to see they've bred somewhere reasonably close by).

Friday, June 22, 2012

A nice little surprise

We were in Tesco buying some extra value white bread (more on that later) when news came through of  a Little Swift at New Brighton. Holy Apus! It wouldn't stick though, would it? No, of course it wouldn't. So we carried on with our original plans. A few minutes later and another news message later and we cracked. Half an hour later and we were pulling up into the car park at New Brighton. We were expecting brief and probably distant views of the bird... so it was a pleasant surprise when the bird flew over the car at head height before we'd even stepped out.

The bird was feeding over the car park and along the river embankment; it was often low, flying by within a metre or two of the assembled crowd! And it often flew low over the sand, giving a nice chance for a top view. Sadly, both Fabian and I had left our camera/large lens combos at home — but Faab did have his 28–50 mm lens with him... and that was good enough!

Here's my effort with just an iPhone:

And a slightly iffy video (there's more action in the second half):

Here's a few of Faab's photos; there are more on his blog:

The bird looked amazingly fresh, with pale fringes to all of the wing feathers (including a thin trailing edge to the wing) — photos back up what we could see in the field (e.g. see Jason Atkinson's blog); photos also show pale fringes to e.g. the upper tail coverts, which I hadn't seen in the field. Occasionally it looked like there was a break in the outer primaries but this seemed to come and go and I suspect it was just misplaced feathers rather than any actual damage (or moult). BWP states that eggs are laid mid-April. Incubation is c.20 days and birds fledge after c.40 days. That's a total of 60 days from laying to fledging, which — for a bird from an early nesting pair — would put fledging around mid-June. So, the plumage fits with the bird being a juvenile and, assuming this bird was early hatched, so does the timing.

But back to the white loaf. Fabian and I spent most of yesterday afternoon/evening building a wire walk-in trap to put in the garden with the aim of catching Woodpigeons and other large birds. We deployed the trap this morning with mixed results: one retrap Robin (the male of the breeding pair) and two Grey Squirrels. At least the garden is now squirrel free...

The trap has been baited for the reminder of the afternoon but so far nothing. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Another day ringing in the garden, another Woodpigeon.

We opened a net in the garden between showers today; it was fairly successful with three Blue Tit, two Goldfinch, one Dunnock, one Greenfinch, the Woodpigeon and a pair of Coal Tits. The Coal Tits were particularly instructive; the female was a 2cy whilst the male was a 3+cy. Both were in active wing moult but the difference in the unmoulted primary coverts was striking between the two birds.

2cy female Coal Tit above — N.B. worn brown alula and unmoulted primary coverts — and 3+cy male Coal Tit below with greyer less worn alula and primary coverts.

We aged the Woodpigeon as a 2cy. Most of the wing coverts are juvenile, brownish and fringed pale. The bird is in active wing moult (new feathers arrowed blue); it had moulted all its primaries during its post juvenile moult along with one inner and two outer secondaries (arrowed red); the 'tertials' and four middle secondaries are retained juvenile feathers (arrowed yellow).

Additionally, the bird had retained one tail feature.

The bird was a very dull individual with very little white in the neck. Even taking into account that this is a fairly young bird, it should be a female.

All photos © Fabian Meijer

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Shearwater ringing

We left Liverpool at 7 O'clock yesterday evening and — via St Helens to pick up Kieran Foster — headed to Anglesey. We arrived at Point Lynas at dusk and set up two nets; one for storm-petrels and one for Manx Shearwaters.

It took until after 1 a.m. before we heard the first shearwaters calling offshore; we put on the tape. At first, nothing happened; then a few birds flew over the net... but it didn't look like they were going to hit. After a while, we changed the CD track playing in the other net from European Storm-petrel to Manx Shearwater. The speakers were louder than those under the shearwater net and, within minutes of changing the track, several birds began circling low over the headland calling as they did so — a really magical experience, expecially as the birds came so close that you could hear their wingbeats. It didn't take long for the first bird to find the net, quickly followed by a second and then a third.

In a short space of time we managed to catch no less than 14 individuals. We needed to get all of the birds ringed and processed before it started to get light again so we made the decision to turn the tape back to storm-petrel, which put an immediate end to catching shearwaters.

Manx Shearwaters are one of the most difficult to handle birds I've ever held. The bite, they scratch, and they're an awkward shape — they're surprisingly bulky with long and narrow wings that easily get caught up in the net; plus they never stay still. Added to that, their legs are a weird shape — like a very elongated oval in cross-section — so the rings can't just be squeeze on in the usual (round) way. Still, despite the blood and the scratches, they were great birds to ring.

Faab & I busy processing two of the fourteen Manx Shearwaters

Unfortunately we weren't so lucky with storm-petrels. Kieran saw one bird bounce out of the net when he went to check it but that was as close as we got to catching one.

We packed up just before dawn and left Point Lynas at about 3 a.m. — then there was just the drive back to Liverpool left. Thanks to Kieran for organising what turned out to be a hugely successful ringing session.

We arrived back home at 6; after a few hours sleep we were up again to take Tammo to the airport (bye Tammo, hope to see you again soon!), then we ate some lunch and headed off to Cheshire where we met up with David Norman for some pullus ringing. Totals for the afternoon were 13 Tree Sparrow, three House Sparrow and four Great Tit — the visit also helped David complete 12 nest record cards for the boxes.
Young Tree Sparrow — © Fabian Meijer

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Captive fun

We relaxed a little this morning with a short visit to Martin Mere WWT. The wild area was pretty quiet with a Green Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover being the highlight, so we took a wander around around the captive pens.

Out on Curlew Lane, several Corn Buntings were singing along the road. This bird was "phonebinned" through the car windscreen:

Monday, June 18, 2012

A look around Liverpool

This morning started well with a Barn Owl over the road just outside Halewood as we headed into Cheshire to meet up with David Norman. We spent a very enjoyable few hours ringing with some interesting and instructive birds. As always with ringing at Oxmoor, we had a number of retraps with known histories; a female Willow Warbler with a brood patch that was originally ringed as a juvenile last year, for example. It's really quite frustrating not having use of a camera for in-hand photos (I must sort out a new lens — any recommendations gratefully received); thankfully Fabian took plenty of great photos, which you can see on his blog.

One retained greater covert...

We took a wander around Liverpool city centre this afternoon; nice for Fabian and Tammo to have a look around — and nice for me, too! I hadn't actually seen, for example, the canal in front of the Three Graces.

Tammo and Fabian pose outside Lime Street

Bird-insprired Superlambanana

We opened a net for a short time in the garden in the evening but caught only a single juvenile Great Tit.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pretty in pink

We headed along north Wales coast again this morning; first stop was at Rhos-on-Sea where a Rose-coloured Starling had been found yesterday. It didn't take long before the bird showed itself, feeding on feeders in front gardens.

The pink was bright and clean (though note all these photos are with my iPhone, thus the pink has become rather over-exposed), lacking any of the brown tones that would be expected on a 2cy bird. Further supporting the idea that this bird is a 3+cy adult is the very long crest; indeed, the crest is so long that it can only belong to an adult male. The rather extensive black bill base and glossy black plumage adds further weight to the bird being a male, as does the fact it was occasionally singing.

In flight the bird appeared longer winged than Common Starling and with a more floppy flight — it reminded me of a Golden Oriole.

We left the starling and headed with Alex Jones to the Little Orme. It was pretty quiet, though we enjoyed nice views of the breeding Fulmars.

At Conwy RSPB we added a few waders to the list: Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, and Little Ringed Plover.

Fabian gets a new in-hand species

We finished the day with a drive down the Conwy valley and across the Denbighshire moors, though sadly failing to find either of our target species (Red Kite and Red Grouse) in the process.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Faba learns Welsh

This morning I picked Dutch birder, ringer and all-roung good guy Fabian Meijer up from Liverpool airport along with his equally all-round good guy dad, Tammo. After a brief stop at base camp we headed off to Anglesey. First stop was a touristy one.


Next we headed to South Stack RSPB where we enjoyed the seabird colony and several Chough.

We continued the auk-fest at Holyhead Harbour where a Black Guillemot was fishing close to the road.

Next up was Cemlyn Bay where we added Arctic, Sandwich and Common Tern to the day list. There were at least three 'non-breeding plumage' terns in the colony, which would have been interesting to take a closer look at — but the heavens opened and we made a dash for the car.

We finished the day with some fish & chips and a brief look at some Manx Shearwaters off Point Lynas.
Fabian and Tammo enjoy their first Manx Shearwaters.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I joined Dave Riley at Woolston for a few hours of early morning ringing. The site is very quiet — hardly any warblers around — but we caught a few bits and pieces including several juveniles of a few species. Amongst them were this juvenile Common Treecreeper and this juvenile Goldcrest.

It's always useful catching juvenile birds; taking note of the primary covert pattern (on the treecreeper) and the alula pattern (on the Goldcrest) can help with ageing these species after they've completed their partial post-juvenile moult.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A brace of Woodpigeon

You probably know by now that I quite like Woodpigeons. There are advantages to liking Woodpigeons; they're common and you can see them everywhere. It's better than liking, for example, Slender-billed Curlews; that would get frustrating after a while. However, there are also disadvantages. There aren't that many other people who are so interested in the species, which means discussions about Woodpigeons usually end up with glazed-over faces and/or rapid changes of subject (or, in this case, glazing-over of faces and rapid clicking onto another website). Also, getting up-close and personal with a Woodpigeon is difficult; their size and weight means they bounce out of — and occasionally through — mistnets. Not today, though, when my dinner was interrupted by this character flapping about in the net!

So, down to business. This bird was actually quite boring. It was, not unexpectedly, in primary moult. The secondaries appeared to be of a single generation (though they might not all have been grown in one clean sweep) — the outer and especially the inner ones appeared a smidgen older but that's presumably because they were moulted earlier in the sequence and, in the case of the inner ones, their position in the wing leading to greater wear. I couldn't find any retained juvenile coverts.

The bird isn't a first-year (obviously). Even the most advanced second-year should theoretically still have some juvenile secondaries, so this bird isn't a second year. Some third-year birds can still be aged on the basis of retained juvenile secondaries; other third-years have moulted the last of their juvenile secondaries and can no longer be aged. This bird could fall into the latter category; it could of course be older but there is, on the basis of plumage, no way of knowing for sure. Thus the bird is a 3+cy (third-year or older, EURING age 6).

You've probably noticed in the first photo that the bird is a lovely deep pink (almost purple in places) on the breast and shows a thick chunk of white on the neck (almost meeting across the nape); the neck also showed a good slither of green and purple, and the upper tail coverts/rump were a nice bluish-grey.

There's quite a bit of overlap in measurements between the sexes, so having a wing of 256 mm didn't help either way. The weight — 500 g, more-or-less (weighed using the kitchen scales; shhh, don't tell my mum) — was also in the (extensive) overlap zone. However, all-in-all I think the combination of plumage traits should make it safe enough to call this bird a male.

I assumed that would be all for today, though in a fit of optimism I threw some bread out onto the lawn and onto the border beside the net. It didn't take long before an unringed Woodpigeon arrived in the garden. It scoffed the bread on the lawn then spent 15 minutes pacing up and down the length of the net trying to work out how to get to the bread on the other side. Eventually it worked out it could walk around the end of the net to reach the bread on the border. I have a walk-in trap there, cobbled together some some slithers of old chicken wire; it doesn't work, of course, but I live in constant hope that a Woodpigeon will one day wander in. This bird got as far as sticking its head in to reach the bread inside. I decided that if I ran into the garden, the bird might leap forward and into the trap. It didn't; but it did leap sideways and into the bottom shelf of the net. With a dive to the ground that would have made any professional footballer proud, I grabbed the bird. Woodpigeon number two!

On the face of it, this bird is slightly more interesting; it shows two generations of secondaries (two old but still seemingly adult-type, arrowed). It is also in primary moult, one primary 'ahead' of the first bird.

However, when we work things out we come to the same conclusion: that this individual is a 3+cy. We want to work out minimum age so we need to work on the basis of maximum extent of moult.  Let's imagine this bird, during its 1cy, moulted S1–2 and S11–6. Then during its 2cy it recommenced secondary moult from the same position and moulted S3–5; at the same time, it started another wave of secondary moult from both the outside and the inside, moulting S1 and S11-7 in the process. Thus, S2 and S6 are left as old secondaries. The bird's minimum age is therefore 3cy (but it could, as before, also be older) — thus it's aged as a 3+cy (EURING 6).

Compared to the first bird, this individual did not show e.g. such extensive white on the neck nor such a deep pink colour to the (in particular, lower) breast.

NB the bird has lost most of its upper tail coverts, thus the base of the tail is exposed.

A wing length of 145 mm was in (the lower end of) the overlap zone. This individual was slightly heavier than the first at ~520 g... though bear in mind it has just necked half a loaf. Although the bird didn't look so male-like as the first, it didn't look terribly convincing for an obvious female either and it's my opinion that this bird is best left unsexed.

There's a pair of Dunnocks nesting in the garden and I managed to catch both parent birds; both 3+cy. My sister was quite disgusted when I showed her the male's cloacal protuberance...

Also three Long-tailed Tits and a Goldfinch ringed.